Author Archives: Kyle O'Connor

FCC Chairman Extols Internet’s Distribution Opportunities for Filmmakers

FCC Chairman Extols Internet’s Distribution Opportunities for Filmmakers; Examines Impact on Journalism, Encourages Web Openness, Private Sector Alliances

By Gary Arlen

In a wide-ranging conversation that encompassed the Internet’s value to filmmakers, piracy, the future of journalism and even his own favorite movie, the nation’s top communications policy maker and enforcer offered his vision of what broadband means to the creative community.

“High-speed Internet is really our platform for 21st—century growth,” said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski

during a Thursday conversation at the SilverDocs conference. He cited the Internet’s potential role in bringing new programming to larger audiences.

“The more people who have access to high-speed broadband, the more people who can access film online,” he said early in the hour-long conversation with Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

“The most important thing we can do with this new medium … is to make sure … the Internet is open for content creators,” he said.  “Were also looking at other ideas that this world of … technologies can support.”

Genachowski focused on the FCC’s massive, visionary National Broadband Plan, unveiled three months ago, which offers an aggressive blueprint for developing wired and wireless Internet infrastructure and services. The Plan envisions near-universal access of high-speed Internet access across America.

He cited the Internet’s role in tackling health care, education, energy and other applications, including “engaging with our government and each other for civic discourse,” as top priorities identified in the Plan.

Singling out the ways in which broadband connectivity can help education, Genachowski said, “In our digital economy, kids need to have the opportunity to get these broadband skills.”

He also touched passionately on the role of “public media,” which includes the world of public TV.  Noting that the sector brings “important ideas” to the conversation, Genachowski said it’s important to “Take advantage of the Internet to create more opportunities, more value.”

“We’re exploring ideas together with the public media world…to increase the role of public media as an outlet,” he added.

He also acknowledged that the response from industry and public interest organizations has been diverse.

“One extreme says, ‘Our broadband challenges will solves themselves’; the other extreme says the government need to be heavily [involved in] regulation of the broadband infrastructure,” Genachowski summarized.  He pointed out that Congressional overseers recently said they would examine a revision of the Communications Act, which he called “desirable” to sort out issues, including the flap about “Network Neutrality.”

Michael Winship, WGA-East (left) and Julius Genachowski, FCC Chairman

Genachowski seemed particularly at ease in chatting with Winship in front of about 150 SilverDocs’ attendees.  I’ve seen him at several industry conferences in the past few months, often delivering tough messages to executives directly affected by proposed FCC regulations.  On Thursday, allowed to expound on a broad array of topics, the Chairman refrained viewpoints he has offered previously, and he comfortably touched on issues, ranging from wireless technology to support from his Harvard Law School classmate Barack Obama.

Among Genachowski’s perceptions:

  • Piracy: “It’s essential that we solve the piracy problem. There is nothing inconsistent about Net Neutrality with that goal. We need an Internet that is open to innovators, entrepreneurs and everyone in the audience.  But it also must be open [for companies and producers] to feel it is … safe.  All these issues are related.”  He observed that content creators should be able to put their content online and “determine what business model [to use] to protect it from piracy.”
  • Journalism:  The Internet “hasn’t yet developed into a place where a lot of news gathering reporters are being economically supported, and that’s a real problem.  It’s a particular problem in respect to local accountability journalism.  It’s a serious one, and it’s not easy to know if we’re in the middle of a transition that will take care of itself .., [if it’s] or a more deeply rooted problem.”  Genachowski said that the current controversial FCC examination of journalism seeks to identify the scope of the issue.
  • Spectrum policy: Responding to my question about the plan to “reclaim” TV airwaves for use in other wireless services – and its impact on program distribution – Genachowski cited “a lot of unlocked value” from the “new technologies that provide new opportunities for broadcasters to share spectrum.”  He focused on the “public media part.”  “I found in my conversations with people in the public media world … there’s a lot of healthy conversation about what happens…. . More and more, there are innovators in that space who are looking at digital media.  We have to find ways to support that because it won’t be cheap, and it is important.”
  • Favorite movie:  During the audience Q&A segment, I asked Genachowski to name his favorite film not made by his filmmaker wife Rachel Goslins (expecting him to cite a documentary).  Smiling, he quickly said, the “movie version of ‘1776,’” a 1972 film based on a Broadway musical about American’s creation. Genachowski recalled the stars Ken Howard and Blythe Danner (who played Thomas and Martha Jefferson) in his politically correct entertainment choice.
  • Transition:  Genachowski repeatedly acknowledged that the Internet is fundamental in the overhaul of the economy, including media and entertainment.  He noted that “change is constantly happening,” but the Internet shift represents a particularly major realignment.  He said that in the media world, there were significant differences in the pre-cable and post-cable eras, and also in the pre- and post-Internet worlds.  Now, he thinks the demarcation point between pre- and post-high-speed wireless service are of major significance.  Policy-makers’ challenge is “picking the sound from the noise to figure out which changes are fundamental” in this evolution, he said.

At the end, Genachowski said he’d prefer to see business models develop and “it would be great if we could identify policies” to support the best solutions.

Then, shrugging his shoulders, he confessed, “We don’t have all the answers.”

— Gary Arlen is President of Arlen Communications


South of the Border

It’s difficult to know how seriously we should take Oliver Stone’s SOUTH OF THE BORDER. Certainly the effort Stone has invested in making the film and his commitment to the power and value of filmmaking might be reason enough for our attention. Stone cleverly invites us to let down our guard with his casual style as interlucutor. He invites us to relax along with him as he jokes, plays soccer and kicks back with his buddies Hugo,  Nestor and Raul. How could we be skeptical or suspicious of this home movie or see the featured Latin American heads of state as anything but regular guys in shirt sleeves with their own common sense  about governance, trying to do the best they can. When challenged during the post-screening panel by Cynthia Arnson, Director of Latin American Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Oliver asked her, “What don’t you like about Hugo?”

The shooting style is almost amateurishly casual with wide framings revealing all of the technical trappings and suggesting, “See, we’re not hiding anything.

Oliver Stone as the Voice of (Latin) America

Stone says the film is getting better reception and distribution than they expected, so look for it later this year.

Time is running out, and so are the tickets. So make plans to see as many films as you can during the last three days of Silverdocs 2010.

Making a Documentary About Your Family?

June 23rd 2010

4 things to remember when making a documentary about your family (Documentary Ethics Inside The Family):

Garnered from the filmmakers speaking at the Documentary Ethics Inside The Family panel at the International Documentary Conference.
There is a difference between the “personal” and the “private.” The personal is the part of the story that the audience can relate to in some way, a detail that brings out an element of universal truth. The private are the details that are self-indulgent for the filmmaker to include. Kaleo LaBelle, director of BEYOND THIS PLACE, highlighted the distinction.

Ethics are always a matter of what is not on the screen, either because it is off-camera, cut during the editing, or was never filmed to begin with. Words of wisdom from Ali Codina, director of MONICA AND DAVID.

You, the filmmaker (yes, you), need to be willing to share and reveal yourself as much as your characters. That gem was shared by the director of FAMILY AFFAIR, Chico Colvard.

Making your film should not be a substitute for therapy, for you or your family, even though it may be therapeutic. So offered Doug Block, the director of THE KIDS GROW UP
MONICA AND DAVID screens 6/25, 8pm, and 6/26, 11:30am

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Silverdocs Movie Review: La Isla

Silverdocs Movie Review: La Isla

June 23rd 2010

Uli Stelzner’s film, LA ISLA – ARCHIVES OF A TRAGEDY, is in the probably unusual position of being nominated for both the Witness Award (for docs about human rights violations) and the Cinematic Vision Award. It is a deserving nominee for both awards. Exposing the secret archives of former Guatemalan dictatorships, LA ISLA gives a voice to those who were “disappeared” by combining the power of visual images with the words from the archived files.

Stelzner uses archive footage from the different time periods under consideration, all of which had only existed outside of Guatemala. The footage is projected onto the walls of the bunker where the archived files were found, as the workers continue going through the notes and scanning them so that surviving relatives can find out, maybe, what happened to their family. It is as if the walls of the bunker are talking, telling the history of what happened. The country has been repressing the memory of the “disappearances,” in an attempt to move on (or to avoid charges). In a cinematic twist, the archives were revealed through an accidental explosion; what we repress will find a way to come to light, and in this case, it was a literal explosion.

The main part of the film, though, is the young workers who are preserving and digitizing the archives. Working in the half-demolished bunker, they wear surgical garb to protect them from the dust (and also because the government wouldn’t allow their faces to be shown on film). The clothes match the mood, that of a cultural autopsy. The workers share with us the stories of their own families who had suffered under the former government. And as they work, in the middle of the training grounds for the police force, they here the rifle shots and marching chants of new young recruits. And we are left to wonder, will the country be able to face its past and heal itself?

La Isla plays Thursday, 6/24, at 1:45 pm

— Post by WIFV – DC

Another Day @ Silverdocs…

Just saw Dung beetles stand on their hands and roll a ball of dung backwards with their feet! MICROCOSMOS SilverDocs Tues night #SDOCWIFV

Another Day @ Silverdocs…

June 23rd 2010

Well the conference is off to a flying start! Fantastic conversations in and out of the sessions.

It was great seeing Women of Vision Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady as part of the opening night panel about “Freakonomics”! Even more fun to see other Women of Vision in the audience supporting the festival.

Today I concentrated on sessions about distribution. Tips will be shared as soon as I sort out all the comments from the sessions. Monetization remains elusive, but seems a little closer at hand with good stories, conscious marketing and audience development. Also more likely for true
self-productions. Not a shocker, but good to have some more concrete examples. Everyone wants more for less (“Ephemeralism” according to Buckminster Fuller)

Counting on WIFV members to share their comments about the films. When not in a session today, I was deep in conversation with filmmakers. Truly enjoyed getting caught up on projects, making introductions, and thinking about things with new insights.

Help us celebrate the one year anniversary of The Scoop podcast at Ben & Jerry’s on June 23 from 5:00 to 7:30 pm. The interiews and topics covered, thanks to Human Factor, are astounding. Listen, subscribe, get a single scoop ice cream cone on us! (Actually, you’ll get it on a cone.)

Breakfast on June 24 about how to develop audiences for doc tv is full. We’ll be taking notes and sharing what Peter Hamilton ( and Stephen Harris (A&E) reveal.

— Post by Melissa Houghton, Executive Director of WIFV – DC

He Cared Enought to Show Up…You Should Too

One of the challenges of throwing an international film festival is getting your international guests into town in time for their appearances. Tuesday night at SILVERDOCS we were expecting Jerome Aglibert, a producer of WE DON’T CARE ABOUT MUSIC ANYWAY, to be around to introduce the film. By showtime at 7:45, he wasn’t in the building, and we hadn’t heard from him. It turns out that he was still making his way to the theater after a flight from Paris. Not long after the film began rolling, he arrived in Silver Spring to pick up his festival pass and get a bite to eat, and then he made his way to the Discovery HD theater. After the film was over, he capably handled a 20-minute Q&A session as if he hadn’t spent the last few hours on a trans-Atlantic flight. WE DON’T CARE ABOUT MUSIC ANYWAY — directed by Aglibert’s friends Cédric Dupire & Gaspard Kuentz — screens again Friday, June 25 at 11 p.m. Get more information here.

— Joe Warminsky, Member, Silverdocs 2010 Screening Committee

I Want to Be Centrifuged

The wonderful thing about documentary film is that you get to see the characters within their physical and social landscape; to see how they interact with their surroundings.  Sometimes it is a place that they know extremely well, like the back of their hand.  Other times it is a new and unfamiliar location; the classic fish-out-of-water story.  A good film will do the same for the viewer, showing the new and unknown as well as showing well-known people and places from an unfamiliar angle.

Christian Frei’s new film, SPACE TOURISTS (World Cinema Directing award at Sundance 2010), is a very good documentary film.  It covers the recent development of commercial space travel as well as the slowly decaying remains of the Cold War military monopoly on space.  In the film, we meet Anousheh Ansari, founder of the X-Prize, a $10 million prize for the first non-governmental organization to build a reusable, manned spacecraft.  Anousheh paid the Russians $20 million to let her travel to the International Space Station on their rocket.  We also meet the Kazakh sheepherders who wait expectantly for the booster engines to come crashing down to earth.  When it lands, which occasionally is on somebody’s house, the Kazakhs harvest the metal and sell it for scrap.

Other (local) reviewers have complained that the only appealing part of the movie is Anousheh Ansari’s storyline, following her preparatory training and adventures on the space station.  It is, predominantly, the usual stuff:  tests of physical fitness on earth and floating bubbles of water in space; however, Frei manages to get some exclusive shots of her in the final moments before launch.  While the footage of Ansari, and her pictures of earth, are fascinating, they have no punch without the complimentary stories in the film.  Taken as a whole, the film explores the context in which space travel occurs.  The other segments establish the conditions that allow Ansari to be a “space tourist,” and fulfill her dream of going into orbit.

Along with the Kazakh scavengers, we meet a Norwegian photojournalist whose pictures of the Soviet Union’s crumbling space program infrastructure weave throughout the film.  The dilapidated and mostly empty buildings in the former Soviet “space city” of Baikonur (located in Kazakhstan but owned by the Russians) is where cosmonauts are trained and rockets are launched.  Seeing the run-down condition of the town is all you need to realize why the Russians are so willing to sell the third seat in the Soyuz capsule.

Finally, we meet Dumitru Popescu, a Romanian engineer who has competed for several X-Prizes himself.  Where Ansari uses her millions to buy her dream, Dumitru builds the test ships that one day, hopefully, will allow him to achieve his dream of going into space.  He says, “I could do this in a much easier way… to make business, to make money! And I could buy a ticket to go into space… but it’s not fun!” As Anousheh says, “How do you put a price on a dream?”


SPACE TOURISTS is screening Tue, June 22, 5:00pm, and Thu, June 24, 1:30pm.  See the trailer and read an interview with the director about the difficulties of filming the Kazakh sheepherders.

— Matthew Radcliff is the organizer of the WIFV Documentary Roundtable and a member of the Silverdocs Screening Committee.  He has no desire to travel into space, although he wants to try one of those centrifuges used to train astronauts to withstand the g-force of liftoff.